Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review Showdown: Mutant Crawl Classics vs Umerican Survival Guide

For this review, I thought I'd pit Goodman Games' Mutant Crawl Classics up against Shield of Faith Studios' Umerican Survival Guide. Both RPGs utilize the Dungeon Crawl Classics system for a post apocalyptic setting.
Caveat #1: For me, Umerican Survival Guide wins any sort of contest between these two offerings. This is MOSTLY because the setting and game are what I'm looking for in a PARPG. I only say mostly, because, as the review will show, USG just has more stuff that I like included than MCC does.
Caveat #2: I'll be upfront in not being sold on the game mechanics of DCC. While there are some interesting ideas, there are too many mechanics that I just don't care for. That being said, I don't hold it against either offering.
Caveat #3: It's interesting that both of these offerings have a nearly equal page count, yet a huge difference in the amount of material you get.


From Goodman Games, this PARPG love letter to Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha comes in at 282 pages (PDF).

Good, evocative artwork that helps to illustrate the setting. Not all the pieces were interesting, and I have to admit I don't care for the style of some of the artists, but that's personal preference, so not a big detraction.
There is a little bit of stuff on languages, but presented in such a way that you really have to do the work in dealing with what languages exist.
Yay! There's a bestiary (even a bit more since mechanical foes are seperated into their own section) and it even includes Spider-Goats! I could wish for a bigger selection, but it does a fair job. I like the Carapod (spider-goat), Cactea Rex, Grasser (a mount), Morticon-66 (though this and the Scavok-69 should have properly been included with the other mechanical beings...and yes the Morticon-66 is an obvious reference to Necron 99 from Ralph Bakshi's Wizards), Piranha Bats, Screamers, and Yvox.  I admit to being a little confused as why mutant insects are "devils" when they're also a variant of manimal. Some of the entries, such as Byte-Mon, Changelings (Mimics with a name change...back to fantasy games with you), Data Ghosts, Gopher-Men, Pyrosomes, Quantum Cats, Silane Serpents (which seem like a poor man's Sand Worm conversion), Smart Mud, and Tetravalents felt like fairly weak choices.
Mechanical beings, including androids, cyborgs, AIs, robots, and holograms are given pretty decent coverage.
An actual, honest to goodness Table of Contents, with the caveat that a couple of chapters got shafted (Archaic Alignments and Bestiary A.D. are only Chapter listings, with no entries for them). This is likely because of the artwork used to "spice up" the TOC pages, but unfortunately this starts to fall into the 'detracting artwork' usage that I don't care for (it is an interesting attempt, but since it negatively effects the usage of the TOC, I'd rather not have it present).
There's a good selection of technological artifacts to play with.
For what this game does, it is well laid out with two columns used to good effect.
There's a sample adventure included to help you get started.
The classes have level titles. I always liked level titles, since their usage as a sort of ranking system seems to make sense in an in-game aspect.

Archaic Alignments. I really want to like this faction-based alternative to alignment, but between the limited selection and feeling that it really doesn't add much to the game, I'm on the fence about bothering with it.
The map is kind of iffy for me as well, it looks like there's some interesting geographical features present, but the terrain representation color pallette rubs me the wrong way and decreases the utility of the map.
Patron AIs. For a technologically based magic system this seemed really limited. The various Patron AIs are pretty interesting though.

Yes, I don't really care for the basic fantasy with technology setting, especially since it seems somewhat poorly implemented here. I'm not sure if I can clarify how I find the setting to be off-putting, but we'll see.
Zero Level Occupations. I really, really, really felt that (due to the setting design) this was the single most weakest aspect of MCC. TWO options, and fairly boring ones at that.
Classes. Yup we see here Race-as-Class :( I do have to admit that the deliberate breakdown reflects a PA approach to B/X D&D with four human classes and three racial classes...which despite my dislike of Race-as-Class I actually liked for the most part as it covers fighter, magic-user, cleric, and thief and includes mutant humans, mutant animals, AND mutant plants. I understand the lack of mechanical races as design intent, but am saddened by it.
Manimal & Plantient Sub-Types. I like that the tables where included, however, I feel the implementation was mediocre. Just presenting (fairly limited) lists with no mechanical differentiation doesn't really make the grade in what I'm looking for, combined with the limited mutation powers (covered later), I don't really feel like manimals or plantients are really viable as playable options.
Confusing currency system. At many points we're told that barter is the basis of currency, yet there are references to 'trinkets' ("small, otherwise worthless pieces of duralloy, plasteel, and permaglass") and Creds, with no real explanation or expansions given.
The currency system then brings us to equipment. In addition to the limited starting equipment of professions, we are only given a small table (half a page) of additional beginning equipment. No other equipment is really listed, which means that the prospective judge has to create their own stuff. This also detracts from the setting (putting it less as a medieval fantasy with tech than a stone-age fantasy with tech) by not giving little details (like foods, drink, etc.) that help flesh out the setting..there is some of this but it's so limited as to add very little.
Mutations. There is a fair offering of different mutation powers and defects. Unfortunately I feel the decisision to tie the system into DCC's magic mechanics actually detracts from the point of having mutant powers.
No skill system.
HUGE lack of survival mechanics. Even the saving throws aren't really useful. I also find the Radburn/Glowburn mechanic to be kind of take damage from radiation, but can carry around radioactive stuff to power your powers. That's pretty counter-intuitive.

Yeah, once you really get down to it, for it's size, there's really not much here other than some very basic stuff to create characters for this game. It really lacks GM aids and other features which would make it a full game.

Shield of Faith Studios brings us Reid San Felippo's gonzo 288 page post apocalyptic supplement for DCC.

As with MCC, the Umerican Survival Guide has some good supporting artwork. Sure there's a few less than good pieces of art, but the only real downside is the repeat use of some of the art.
One of the best actual Table of Contents of the PARPGs I've reviewed to date. THIS is how to do an RPG TOC folks.
The setting is something I think I'd want to play in, though I'd naturally make my own changes and tweaks. The best part about the presentation of the setting is that the author focuses on the basics of life. This section of the book is one of the most useful and well implemented sections I've seen, with lots of little details presented that really bring the setting to life. A slight technical issue with the lack of refence to the related survival mechanics which means you have to do a bit of searching to find them, but they are there.
Here is a currency system for the post apocalypse that is usable. It's broken down into different commodities (with more specific examples to help define each unit of currency) and how they compare in value to each other. My only caveat is the lack of inclusion of "pure water" as a currency (I'd personally lodge them into the electrum piece equivalent for value).
This has a darn good equipment section, with some quite interesting armor and weapon mechanics.
Vehicles and Vehicle Combat Rules! This section litterally rules, I'm even thinking of adopting this to be my go to rules for Vehicular Combat (though I'd probably tweak some areas).
Survival Mechanics. They're included, somewhat rules-lite, but at least they're there and implemented.
While I'd prefer a 100-entry offering, the Umerican Random Occupation table is pretty dang good.
Random Junk Tables. A selection of random junk tables broken down into different types of items. Yes, I'd like more entries and maybe some more categories, but this does a better than servicable job, and I'd rate it as better than one single d100 table for random junk.
GM utilities and advice. There's a lot of good stuff here, some of it scattered through various areas of the book, though there is a GM section. The only thing I'd recommend is maybe tacking Other Dust's GM tools onto this to help create things (though there's some CUBM articles of use in this area).
Gazeteer. While I think there was a bit too much focus on the Citadel of Scrap, the overview of the different areas of the setting was darn good, enough to be usuable, but still let you get more information from CUBM.
There's more than a few factions presented throughout the book which really helps the setting.

Sadly, I'm on the fence about the classes of the USG. On one hand, there's a good variety of classes (a dozen classes are included), which fill my HAVM requirements for the most part. On the downside, the Mutant Race-as-Class doesn't make a real distinction between mutant animals, mutant humans, mutant plants, and mutant aggregates (that would be, stones, etc.) which is really a bummer. The inclusion of mutant badgers really underscores this area of lack. Compared to MCC, the Bestial, Botanical, and Aggregate Subtables really differentiate between differing species, though the offerings are somewhat limited. While the cleric, warrior, and wizard classes are pretty much straight from DCC, modified to reflect the PA setting, the scavenger, petrol head, and technologist classes really bring a lot to the setting. The Race-as-Class Cyborg, Robot, and Gray are welcome inclusions. I'm a bit on the fence about the Feral Urchin though.
Overall, there seemed to be a limited number of mutations, though they were implemented quite well.
Gods and Patrons. There's some pretty good stuff here, I'd say I'd be more inclined to tweak it than use it outright though.

No bestiary. I'm going to be blunt and admit I'd rather that the sections of the Citadel of Scrap were dumped (and moved to an issue of Crawling Under a Broken Moon), and the monsters from CUBM were incorporated into this book and expanded instead.
No maps. (Caveat: Reid San Filippo said that the world map is coming later and wasn't included for a reason.) Both the lack of world map, and (since the focus on this book is the Citadel of Scrap) a lack of map of the Citadel is really disappointing.
While overall the equipment is well done, I felt that there was a lack of high-tech artifacts of the ancients. MCC does this a bit better, I think.
Lack of languages. While there is some brief mention of languages under a few of the classes, that's it.

Despite being designed as a supplement to DCC, and not a stand-alone game, the Umerican Survival Guide feels more complete overall than MCC.

The Umerican Survival Guide is just packed with more useful material for a post apocalyptic game overall, in roughly the same amount of pages. The biggest downfall of the USG is the lack of bestiary, this is one of the few areas where Mutant Crawl Classics has an advantage (I'd also say that the Technological Artifacts are the other main advantage of MCC over USG).  Both of these games have additional supplements out there, but the Crawling Under a Broken Moon fanzine is something I'd rate above having various adventure only supplements of MCC.